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The Kerry Surprise

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Secretary of State John Kerry has broken all frequent flyer records in his visit to the Middle East. Kerry is the surprise of the second Obama administration, together with President Obama he has defined a new U.S. diplomacy doctrine "diplomacy first."

When the world expected American military action in Syria, Obama and Kerry turned to Putin in order to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal. The agreements negotiated by Kerry and Lavrov began the dismantling of Assad's chemical weapons. No military intervention would have achieved this goal.

John Kerry also opted for collective diplomacy on the Iranian issue. The United States, together with the P5+1 signed the Geneva Interim Agreements with Iran, as part of a more prolonged diplomatic process aimed at preventing Iran's development of nuclear arms. It seems that the Obama administration has arrived at the conclusion that wars in today's era have become futile, also given the military experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most powerful of armies are unable to achieve strategic goals against the weakest of countries. The alternative to war for the attainment of strategic goals is collective diplomacy. By creating an international consensus in crisis management and conflict resolution between the U.S., the EU, Russia and China. This gave birth to the international sanction regime against Iran. John Kerry has proven himself as the virtuoso of collective diplomacy. He is applying his diplomatic skills also in relation to the Middle East peace process.

In the last 30 years, working by Shimon Peres' side, I was privileged to meet and work with six American Secretaries of State: three Republicans, George Shultz, James Baker, and Colin Powell, and three Democrats: Cyrus Vance, Warren Christopher, and Madeline Albright. All of them involved in various Middle East peace processes.

There is a common trace between the three Republican secretaries: Middle East activity. By definition, they are more nationalistic and convinced of the leading power of the United States. When Jim Baker walked into the Prime Ministers office one knew here that the superpower had landed. He told Prime Minister Shamir, after making a take it or leave it proposal, "give me a call when you have an answer." He would not take no for an answer. George Shultz posed to Prime Minister Peres strict conditions for Israel's economic reform in return for generous assistance. Colin Powell, like his colleagues, saw in security, the main building block of the peace process. All three were determined, ambitious, and had excellent operative skills.

The three Democratic secretaries were more introverts, and held strong humanitarian and universal values, out of a strong belief in democratization and equality in international relations. They were masters of details, especially Vance on the side of Jimmy Carter, and Christopher, who dealt with great professionalism with every little detail. Albright, like her Democratic colleagues, very much emphasized the centrality of human rights. Peace, for these secretaries, was a condition for security.

According to this analysis, John Kerry is a Democrat in values and goals, and a Republican in the way to accomplish them. A Kissinger and a Clinton in one man. Kerry has unlimited passion and professional ambition. He speaks on an almost daily basis by phone with Netanyahu and Abbas, and in his frequent visits he conducts his meetings for 3-5 hours. He is not intimidated by negative reactions, or by the manipulative efforts of his two counterparts to blame the other side for failure. He is determined to succeed.

John Kerry is a great friend of Israel as he has proven in his long tenure in the Senate. In parallel, he understands that the United States and Israel, must for their own interests, be attentive to the interests of the Palestinians and the Arab world. He is indeed an honest broker.

The Secretary is coming to the negotiation table with a clear analysis he conducted with the various branches of government and the White House, as to the American strategic interests in the Middle East. He has concluded that Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution is a necessity for Middle Eastern stability and security. He listens not only to the regional leaders, but also to the people's voice, in Israel, focused on security, and in the Arab world, concerned with the destiny of the Palestinians. Middle Eastern peace in his mind, must be agreed upon by the leaders, and legitimatized by the people. For that he is conducting in parallel both private and public diplomacy. He believes that Israeli-Palestinian peace must pacify the whole Middle East, and move the region from a conflict to economic cooperation. In this, he has skillfully activated a working relationship with the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League, based on the Arab Peace initiative.

Most probably, the Secretary of State, backed by his president, will soon offer the parties a framework of principles as a base for continuous detailed negotiations on a permanent peace settlement between two states, Israel and Palestine.

Given that John Kerry is a liberal intellectual and a skillful power player at the same time, he just might succeed where others have failed.

Uri Savir, Honorary President of the Peres Center for Peace. Israel's former chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords.